The heartwarming story behind this man's photo with his grandmother and dog

Josh Dutton
News Reporter

A Sydney man has shared heartwarming photos of his grandmother with dementia connecting with his dog during a visit.

Dane Hopper, 25, told Yahoo News Australia he had been taking his Staffordshire Terrier, Polo, to visit grandmother Val at a dementia ward in Sylvania, in Sydney’s south, for the past month.

She’s been there for about five years.

Logan Hopper with his grandmother, Val, and Polo the dog. Source: Facebook/ Dane Hopper

Mr Hopper said his grandmother, who’s in her 80s, used to have an English Staffordshire Terrier named Cindy.

“At one stage she was feeding Cindy about 10 times a day and the dog was getting super fat,” Mr Hopper said.

“That’s when we knew something was wrong.”

Heartbreakingly, Ms Hopper would ask where her dog was while in the ward. Cindy died only days after she moved in.

Polo's owner Mr Hopper says his dog enjoys the attention and makes his grandmother happy when the pooch visits. Source: Facebook/ Dane Hopper

But for the past month, Mr Hopper has been bringing Polo to visit.

He said before the visits she, and the others who enjoy Polo’s company, often seem sad or low on energy.

“He always puts a smile on her face,” Mr Hopper said.

“She speaks but doesn’t make much sense. I can’t imagine what she goes through, but bringing Polo over always makes her happy.

“It also gets her up and moving, gets the fitness levels up.

“Polo loves it too. He gets all the attention.”

The Hoppers enjoying time together. Val has been in the dementia ward for about five years. Source: Facebook/ Dane Hopper

Mr Hopper shared photos of their most recent visit along with his brother, Logan, and partner Emma to visit his grandmother.

“To see the joy this little fella brings to my nan and her friend is unreal,” he wrote.

“She has no recollection of who I am or the things we used to do together which is heartbreaking although to be able to put a smile on her face means the world to me.”

Mr Hopper added people who brought pets along to visit their relatives with dementia would "make their day".

People loved the photos too and praised Mr Hopper for not only bringing a smile to his grandmother’s face, but also in raising awareness about dementia.

“Your nanny is one very blessed woman to have a caring beautiful grandson like you,” one woman wrote.

Ms Hopper's grandson is encouraging others to take pets to visit relatives with dementia. Source: Facebook/ Dane Hopper

How pets can help people with dementia

An article published by Alzheimers.net in 2017 looked at the benefits of pets visiting patients with dementia.

“While companionship is an obvious benefit, a well-timed pet visit may also help with anxiety and depression,” it reads.

“Researchers have long suggested that pets are good for us, even offering health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate, reducing the stress hormone cortisol, and boosting levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.”

However, it did caution to be mindful of a pet’s temperament and energy level as an excitable dog or cat which jumps on people or loud barking might cause issues.

Also dementia and Alzheimer’s patients can be unpredictable when it comes to pets.

To learn more about dementia and about the more than 440,000 Australians affected by it click here.

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